Reimagining ALL

Posted by Charles Sampson on 7/28/2016

I wrote this piece as part of a larger conversation about ensuring student opportunities, access and support within the FRHSD and grappling with the term ALL from a systems perspective. A work in progress in many ways!


No Child Left Behind spurred a narrowing of the term ALL in schools across the nation. Achievement was measured solely by performance on standardized assessments which inhibited the development of alternative measures for student growth. The national focus on assessment performance stilted schools from developing systems that nurtured and supported equity and excellence in ways that defined the concept of ALL more broadly. Distinct achievement gaps were uncovered for the first time as a result of subsequent reporting requirements. In following a narrow definition of ALL, schools pursued aggressive policies and practices aimed at closing achievement gaps identified by singular metrics that emerged from disaggregated analysis of standardized assessments. Often, these metrics devolved into traditionally subjective sorting processes that limited opportunities for students, whether through leveling, teacher recommendation, or school practice that ignored the complexity of an individual student journey through a K-12 institution.  At the FRHSD we have been reimagining the concept of ALL by engaging in a systems approach to identify individual student needs, strengths and aspirations within the larger system and to utilize data in more unconventional and district specific means.  This allows us to broaden the scope of our understanding of opportunities and achievement in our district while simultaneously expanding our work grounded in the concepts of equity and excellence.  The pursuit of ALL must be understood as the core Mission. As a result, our definition of equity and excellence for ALL has been sharpened by a simple guiding belief, that all students will explore passions in rigorous course work. To pursue our Mission we have created unique, district specific metrics that provide a directional beyond standardized assessments.  These metrics capture programmatic, instructional and curricular data which is utilized by school and district leadership teams to ensure every student is appropriately challenged.

To achieve fidelity to our promises of equity and excellence, we have grounded our work within school specific goals that are reflective of the district mission but designed with flexibility to serve unique and shifting populations. These goals are uncovered organically, embracing a wide range of data that requires a nuanced examination of the individual student experience within our six high schools. As we broaden our understanding of school data, structures are in place that allow for alignment of school goals to the larger Mission through collaborative analysis among school and district administrators, representatives of the School Improvement Panel (ScIP) and our Professional Learning Communities.  Principals utilize these metrics to chart progress, identify strengths and struggles and engage in double loop learning in order to continually refine our action steps to promote improved student outcomes while ensuring that we tear down traditional cycles of understanding progress that do not adequately serve ALL students. As we crystalize our understanding of student needs, our tools to provide answers become apparent. In this sense we are not simply developing interventions or reactive measures to promote student achievement along narrow measures of success, nor are we following static data from a standardized assessment.  We are freeing our administrators from traditionally stunted means of examining student work to focus on individuals within the system and to target areas of need.  We are flipping our understanding and use of student outcome data to focus on deeper systems processes that propel us down the road to embracing each and every student as a unique learner. These processes have unfolded over the past several years and have led to the development of concurrent support courses, the elimination of courses that stagnated student growth, the creation of bridge courses to spur acceleration and the removal of a host of artificial barriers to student opportunity such as cumbersome and unaffiliated pre-requisites, and an overreliance on standardized assessment data to determine student fate. Through the holistic use of systems data that both informed and fueled our wonderings, we are on course to guarantee all FRHSD students an educational journey that promotes the development of the whole child.

Our success has been dramatic. Student opportunity in more rigorous courses has grown significantly; we increased our Advanced Placement examinations by over 2,000 from 2010-2015 despite a declining student population. We have expanded our career and technical education programs, increased our community partnerships and internship opportunities and instituted an International Baccalaureate program to appeal more specifically to student passions. Hundreds of students have moved along the continuum to explore more demanding course work. While our Hispanic population represented in AP courses has increased by 110% we know that we must continue to make strides toward ensuring equity of access and opportunity and support for ALL learners to follow passions for their own growth.  Therefore, we have begun the process of embedding specific equity goals directly into our school based goals to help drive continual growth. In this endeavor our district based metrics and directionals have pointed toward the path, it is up to us to continue to shape the journey.